The Emotion-Charged Debate about Internet Safety

Dean Shareski linked today to an important article about Internet safety for kids. The article debunks the myths that the Internet is always an unsafe place.

Safety on the shelvesIn an environment that is so emotionally charged, it is important that data is presented and this research article does just that. However, there are many creditable agencies that describe the tragedies that do occur with children and adolescents. There is important work to be done that cannot be ignored, in helping our children learn to be Internet-savvy. Interacting online with strangers is potentially dangerous behaviour. It is the same education we have provided our children about being street smart.

But there is much to learn in our world, just as there is much to learn and be connected with on the Internet. The data presented in this report focuses our work as adults in watching for children at risk, preparing all children to be Internet savvy, and then leveraging this amazing resource for all the positive it can be. The paper suggests that the focus should be more on the adolescent and less on the parent. The research also suggests that the prevention focus needs to be with adolescents, who are in a position to act independently.

The Parent’s Edge website describes seven warning signs for parents. This aligns with the research recommendations about prevention and is part of the parent’s role. Controlling behaviour by the parent is seen as less effective than teaching the adolescent directly. But how much of the advice is directly related to individual parenting styles?

I wrote a post not so long ago about defining safety and security as I personally explored this question of “do we worry too much?”. Josie Fraser offers a framework that assesses Internet risk according to contact, content and commerce. I was looking to extend that framework to assessing risk about safety for the user, safe practice by the user, safety of the site, safety of the technology/system from intrusion. The research presented here deals primarily with safe practice by the user, and may suggest that a site itself is not inherently unsafe by virtue of the functionality it offers.

Where to from here? Dean suggests we need to get on with the learning. I suggest we need to present the evidence first – or at least give it a wide public voice to fuel an intelligent debate based more on fact than emotion.

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6 Responses

  1. I understand it’s a bit more complex than I presented. The greatest dangers/issues I see are cyberbullying. It impacts the largest number of students but still, even with that relative to the overall activity of student activity it’s small number, not insignificant but small.

    In other words, the fact that students will bully shouldn’t stop us from using these tools because any sane person figures out in about 5 seconds that even if there wasn’t a computer in a school, this wouldn’t stop a thing. The best way to deal with it is the same way we should be dealing with character education from K-12. Embed it into all teaching. Talk about right and wrong. Point out wrong behavior, praise correct behavior. In this respect, the internet is a far safer place than the real world.

    The safety hints are good but if you look at the parent’s edge site, it’s dealing with those students who fall into the “internet daredevil” category. They are engaging in risky behaviour. This is not a large number. Again not to be dismissive but it’s really been blown out of proportion and that’s my point.

  2. Great links and comments from Dean’s post. I shall pass on the info in our division!

  3. Dean – Thanks for the comment. I did not interpret “dismissive” in your feedback. I agree the Internet and the whole of the online learning space is an extension of our classrooms and the same codes of conduct need to apply.
    Call it fear of the unknown – I think that’s one root cause of the “blown out of proportion” that you describe.

  4. As an administrator, cyberbullying is an issue. Is it rampant? No.

    Should we ban technology? No, but let’s not pretend that it is always used in positive ways.

    I dealt with this issue just last week.

    When the parent was in my office, I didn’t talk about how cyberbullying doesn’t affect very many people.

    It’s similar to bullying. Is it rampant? No, but when it happens to your kid, it doesn’t matter how rampant it is – you just want it stopped.

  5. Ken, I’m interested in whether you approach cyberbullying differently than bullying when dealing with parents?

  6. […] The Emotion-Charged Debate about Internet Safety � Technology for Learning […]

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